Behind the Curtain: an investigation of the illicit trade in firearms and explosives on the dark net

Principal Investigator

Dr Giacomo Persi Paoli

Research Institution

RAND Europe

Project Summary

The proliferation and illicit movement of firearms and explosives within and around Europe is a complex of interrelated problems. Despite the efforts at the EU and national level to regulate firearms, there are multiple avenues for entrepreneurial criminal actors to bypass controls and traffic weapons through Europe. One possible avenue is via the dark web as noted by the European Commission’s report which gives voice to fears of firearm parts and components being traded online and delivered through mail order, or express delivery services. Entrepreneurial criminal networks and so-called ‘lone-wolves’ therefore have the opportunity to conduct illegal activities in cyberspace, enabling a different form of transnational crime already exploited, for example, for drugs trafficking. RAND Europe and the University of Manchester have partnered to conduct a study to explore the European illegal arms trade, with focus on the role played by the hidden web in fuelling and/or facilitating such trade.


By providing the first evidence-based estimate of the nature and scale of the illegal supply and trade (i.e. estimated transactions) on the hidden web of firearms, including their parts, components and ammunition, and explosives, the impact of this project will be three-fold: 1) at the operational level it will contribute to the identification of potential challenges related to countering arms trafficking in the cyberspace; 2) at the policy level, it will generate recommendations for a more efficient and effective action against arms trafficking in Europe; 3) at the academic level, it will contribute to the ongoing research in the field of crypto-markets.

Contact Information

For further information, please email Giacomo at or visit this page.